Shonen romantic comedy manga has a special place in my heart, even if some of the tropes aren’t exactly the best. That being said, every now and then a shonen romance comes along that uses the tropes we know and love and sometimes hate in such a clever way that makes it a must-read. This month, that’s Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie. Written and illustrated by mangaka Keigo Maki and localized in English by manga publisher Kodansha Comics, this series is cute, clever, and genuinely hilarious.
In Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie Volume 1, Shikimori and Izumi are high school sweethearts. They hold hands walking home from school, they flirt in the halls, and they lovingly tease each other. But Shikimori knows what she wants, and how to get it, and she can turn from cutie to cool in an instant, especially when Izumi finds his clumsy self in a bind. Told through a series of chapters that aren’t all directly connected, this series is all about Shikimori’s talent for getting what she wants and protecting Izumi from the world. It’s an adorable dynamic that works well in the format.
Truthfully, Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie feels like a monster of the week if that monster was just Izumi’s clumsiness and bad decisions. Each chapter showcases different elements of “cool” and with the focus of the storytelling being Shikimori’s switch from cutie to cool – Maki’s illustration does a lot of heavy lifting. While the dialogue itself notes some changes in her personality, it’s the sharp changes in her character design that notes that the switch has been flipped. Well, that and Izumi’s very real thirsting over his girlfriend while she’s in this mode.
Now, it has to be noted, that my biggest worry about this series from the description was that we would end up in the problematic land of yandere and the fetishistic tropes that come with them. If you’re unfamiliar, yandere is a portmanteau of the Japanese words yanderu and deredere. The former meaning insane or sick, and the latter meaning affectionate or loving. Now, the easiest way to explain what a yandere character is to essentially describe them as someone who has been driven to insanity by extreme obsession or love which results in personality shifts, abnormal behavior, and sometimes violence. The worst of this trope in recent memory is Future Diary’s Yuno. Now there are varying levels to yandere character but in the description of the series, I was worried that Shikimori would fall somewhere on that spectrum.
Thankfully, the series and is clearly aware of the trope but manages to subvert into a wholesome story about two normal teens in young love. In Maki’s illustration, the change in Shikimori’s eyes and eyebrows is the most noticeable difference, and a tool used to showcase mood swings in characters, especially yandere types. Maki’s ability to use the visual cues for yandere without pushing Shikimori into that category and instead, making her a strong protagonist is to be applauded. Additionally, Maki also avoids oversexualizing Shikimori even when alluding to Izumi’s own fantasies and how he’s attracted to her. There is a perfect balance between wholesome, cool, and even action that makes this manga stand out from others.
Overall, Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie is a fun read and can bring some pure joy to your life, which let’s be honest, we all need right now. Izumi is in love with Shikimori and it’s about time that you fall in love with her too.
Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie Volume 1 is available from booksellers now.
Shikimori's Not Just a Cutie Volume 1
Overall, Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie is a fun read and can bring some pure joy to your life, which let’s be honest, we all need right now. Izumi is in love in Shikimori and it’s about time that you fall in love with her too.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.